The Keswick Preaching in its
Bearing on Effective Gospel Preaching

By Arthur T. Pierson, D.D., Brooklyn, N. Y., Editor-in-Chief of the “Missionary Review of The World.”

Key Thought: We ought all to learn that we must have something besides a mechanical and parrot-like repetition of the Gospel message. If souls are to be saved and sanctified by our message, the ministry must cease to be merely a human profession and become a divine vocation, and the power for such service must be found in the inflow and outflow of the Spirit. Until those who are sought for vacant pulpits are men of something more than scholarship and popular power, and are messengers of spirituality and true Gospel power, we shall continue to have pulpit artists who have little or nothing of the Holy Spirit effectiveness.

Keswick Preaching

There are certain ultimate tests by which any system of religious teaching must be tried, and none perhaps is more practical and decisive than its influence on effective preaching. Here our Lord’s maxim is especially pertinent and forcible: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

Keswick teaching, it must be remembered, does not claim to represent any new school of theological thought. In fact, those who are known as “Keswick teachers” are rather shy of differing schools of theological opinion, as of that which involves serious risk. Such teachers claim at most no more than to lay stress on revealed truth which has been neglected, or which does not exercise its normal legitimate power upon the lives of disciples. Especially do they seek to reduce what is called judicial truth, to experimental fact or actual experience.

They hold that what God reckons or counts the believer to be, the believer is to reckon or count himself to be, and seek daily to translate or transfer doctrine into the sphere or realm of deportment, making real in character and in conduct what is already real in the will and Word of God concerning him. In tracing the bearing of Keswick teaching on Gospel preaching, therefore, we may expect to follow practical rather than theoretical lines. Whatever be such bearing, it is the result, or more properly the resultant, of the whole religious attitude of Keswick teachers toward the Word of God. Without one known exception, this body of teachers hold to the plenary inspiration of the Word of God. To them the Bible is the final court of appeal, the last arbiter in all controversy. Their perpetual question is, “What saith the Scripture?” Here, as they believe, are to be forever found three great qualities or characteristics:

First. Perfect sufficiency for human guidance.

Second. Perfect supremacy of divine authority.

Third. Perfect simplicity of remedy for human need.

They hold that whatever obscurity, mystery, or perplexity may inhere in the teaching of the Scriptures, it never concerns the question of duty. There are “secret things” which “belong unto the Lord our God “-inscrutable mysteries like that of the Trinity; but “all the words of this law “ which pertain to our guidance in matters of practical obedience are plainly revealed, and it is these which especially “belong to us “ (see Deut. xxix. 29).

There are certain things that are fundamental in Keswick teaching as to the preaching of the Gospel. Perhaps the basis of all lies in the conviction that the Gospel alone can meet universal human need, and that it can and does prove, whenever, wherever, and to whomsoever it is faithfully preached, both “the wisdom of God” and “the power of God unto salvation.”

Let us observe these two words, “wisdom “and “power.” All necessary truths are taught in the Word, but besides these (wisdom) the secret of victorious power is there supplied.

For twenty-five years Keswick has stood especially for power. The Church has long taught the wisdom of God as found in the Gospel, and the doctrinal basis of truth has been presented in evangelical pulpits with more or less clearness and vitality; but it seems to Keswick teachers that the other aspect of God’s enabling power has been overlooked, and nothing has more characterized Keswick than the singular emphasis of both the teaching and the testimony upon the fact that every commandment of God is an enablement.

When Christ says to the cripple, the palsied, the impotent, “ Rise, take up thy bed and walk,” “Stretch forth thine hand,” “Stand upright on thy feet,” the command means power to do what He has commanded; and so in the department of spiritual disease and incapacity, the will must be surrendered to God. There must be faith that when God commands He assures the willing soul the capacity to obey. Hence there is no apology for one moment’s continuance in sin or any bondage whatever to evil habits.

Every summer finds men and women going to the quiet retreat in the lake district of England to find actual deliverance from their besetting sins of tongue and of temper, and habits of wrongdoing, which they have come to regard as infirmities to be borne with and to be struggled against until death gives relief and release, but the power of which is broken and broken forever. At Keswick they learn to abandon their own vain struggles and, ceasing from their own works, to commit themselves in faith to the keeping power of God and quietly enter into His rest; and so, in a sublime sense, many return home leaving behind them their crutches and broken fetters, as those who no longer need the former, and are no longer bound by the latter. Men who both believe in such a gospel and can witness from experience to this power, have in fact little temptation to preach anything else but Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God, and therefore, to a very unusual degree, Keswick stands for simple effective Gospel preaching and nothing else.

But to estimate the real effectiveness of Keswick teaching, we must look deeper even than this. One of the foremost principles of effective preaching is this: that every text is unique, having its own meaning and mission; and furthermore, that, though the words be the same in two or more cases, the setting makes the jewel different in appearance and purpose. The context must therefore be taken into account in all true exegesis and exposition, and this context may, and even does, include the whole epistle or treatise, historical, prophetical, poetical. This principle is so important that we delay to state a few examples.

There are two Old-Testament texts which figure conspicuously in the New Testament, namely, Gen. xv. 6 and Hab. ii. 4. Each of these texts is quoted three times in the New Testament-the former in Rom. iv. 3, Gal. iii. 6, James ii. 23; and the latter in Rom. i. 17, Gal. iii. 11, Heb. x. 38. Yet in each case of quotation, the emphasis falls upon a different leading word. For example, in quoting from Genesis in Romans the emphasis falls upon the word “ accounted”; in Galatians upon the word “believe”; and in James upon the word “righteousness”; and in quoting the words from Habakkuk in Romans the emphasis is upon “just”; in Galatians upon “faith”; in Hebrews upon “live.”

Thus it will be seen that often the identical words may be used, and yet require intelligent and varying emphasis. The reader, consulting the special bearing of the quotation in each new connection, finds it an essentially new text in each new place where it recurs. An accurate reader will reveal this in his reading; much more will the effective preacher reveal this in his preaching.

Again, often texts which most closely resemble each other will be found to have some marked dissimilarity, as in John iii. 14-16. Here the language is exactly word for word in the second part or member of each statement, but in the first members totally different, showing that one statement is meant to present the divine aspect of Christ’s sacrifice, and the other the human aspect. Humanly speaking, He was lifted up by men upon the cross. Divinely speaking, He was given by God as a sacrifice for sin. He was lifted up to be looked at; He was given to be received in believing. The exhaustive student will find out what is such differentiating element in each text, separating it from all others, and thus he has the key to penetrate to these secret chambers and bring to light this hidden and peculiar meaning. This is the highest secret of perfect exposition of which Dr. Alexander McLaren of Manchester, England, is doubtless the grandest living master. Such study and insight give freshness and originality to preaching, leading the preacher out into perpetual discovery, and the hearer after him.

Keswick teachers believe that nothing prepares for effective preaching more than this insight into the exact meaning of the Spirit of God in each particular text, It is assumed that the divine Author uses words with divine discrimination, and has employed every word, gender, number, tense, mode, and voice as part of the contribution of language to His eternal purpose, and that even the order of these words is to be observed of all them that have pleasure therein.

The most effective preaching, therefore, demands one’s careful, discriminating study of the Word of God. Sometimes quotations from the Old Testament appear in the New in a somewhat modified form. The careless or irreverent reader may infer that verbal accuracy is therefore unnecessary-a most unwarrantable inference. But the devout and careful student seeks, wherever such modification occurs, to find out a reason, and prolonged study will reveal the reason even for the change of terms or language. For example, when Paul in 1 Cor. i. 19 quotes Isa. xxix. 14, “the wisdom of the wise shall perish,” he quotes it thus, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,” by the inspiration of the Spirit, giving the sense and meaning of the Spirit’s own words, the second and further revelation making clear that God is Himself the cause of their wisdom perishing. Again in 1 Cor ii. 9, the quotation from Isa. lxiv. 4 is modified. In the original Hebrew it is “him that waiteth for me.” In the quotation in the New Testament it is “they that love him”; but let us remember that the Messiah, for whom Old-Testament saints waited in hope, has come to earth and has become to New-Testament saints the personal object of love and the reward of their waiting. Hope has therefore been changed to love, and the very alteration of words, instead of implying inaccuracy of quotation or carelessness of adaptation, is advanced in inspiration, the spirit of God Himself casting a new light upon His own expression of truth. This philosophy will be found in every case to reveal a new and unexpected harmony between Old-Testament texts and the citations of them in the New.

But the thought that we seek to impress is a much more comprehensive one than we have thus far unfolded. Every text stands essentially alone as to its deeper meaning which only the most careful and spiritual study detects. There is a sense in which it is true that no two texts are absolutely identical in their teaching, and therefore to the true discriminating student no one text can be substituted for another as if it were a matter of indifference which of the two be chosen. For example, there is but one text which exhibits the entire fourfold work of Christ as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, namely, 1 Cor. i. 30. Here is the one mountaintop which commands the four cardinal points of the horizon of Christ’s entire work. Again, there is but one solitary text that exhibits the highest bond of unity between the believer and the Lord: “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor. vi. 17). Again, there is but one place where Christ’s whole work as to death is fully presented, as suffering, tasting, and destroying death: Heb. ii. 9-15. Only in Psalm li. 10-13 are holiness and service so closely joined that their mutual relations are clearly taught, and the progress of that unmistakable line of thought is marked by four adjectives, “clean,” “right,” “holy,” “free.”

These are hints only of the views commonly held by Keswick teachers. This may account for the fact that those who are in Britain known and recognized as leaders in the Keswick movement are without exception also recognized as unusually effective preachers. It is quite enough to mention the names of such men as Prebendary WebbPeploe, Rev. E. W. Moore, C. G. Moore, F. B. Meyer, Gregory Mantle, Evan H. Hopkins, Dr. Elder Cumming, Dr. Handley Moule, Hubert Brooke, G. H. C. McGregor, F. S. Webster, J. Hudson Taylor, Charles Inwood, Andrew Murray, George Grubb, etc., to prove that Keswick teachers are preeminently linked with simple, genuine, powerful preaching of the Gospel. There is not a man of them all who preaches anything else but the Gospel, nor is there a man of them all who preaches a dead orthodoxy in place of a living and life-giving message. The confidence of these men in the Bible as the very Word of God begets the almost involuntary habit of making their sermons expositions of the Word of God. In motto texts, as they are called, these preachers rarely if ever indulge. With them the connection between the text and the sermon must be neither fictitious nor factitious. The sermon must be the expansion of the text, and the text must therefore be the germ of the sermon. These two laws of sermon-making, therefore, almost unconsciously govern Keswick teaching’ first, the germinal law which makes every sermon to find in the inspired Word its germ; and second, the terminal law which ordains that actual justification, sanctification, and service, or some such practical results in the life of the hearer, shall be the purpose of every discourse.

It will not be thought strange that Keswick teachers give great prominence to the after-meeting, which is held in the confidence that the Word of God will not return to Him void, and that therefore there will be some who are impressed, and, like the eunuch of Ethiopia, need some man to guide them. At Keswick there may be seen peculiar, tactful, skilful, personal dealing with souls. Never have we known such large inquiry meetings, nor such simple, practical, and prayerful methods of guiding and helping men and women to a decision.

Rev. Andrew Murray once said to the writer of this paper, “There is a deep thrust of the truth into the inmost soul, that is best learned at Keswick,” and we venture to add, there is a way of making the truth grip the conscience and will when thus thrust into the inmost being. It grapples with the conscience and will, to an extent which we have seen nowhere else in the degree of efficiency. There must be something in all this worth careful study, for after a lapse of one quarter of a century there is rather an increase than a loss of the power in the Keswick teaching.

While the annual gathering in the Lake district is for one week at the end of July, the lesser conventions for like teaching may be found almost every week in the year at various centers throughout Great Britain. Even the reading of the addresses in The Life of Faith, the organ of the Keswick movement, has been known to kindle fire in the centers of Gospel effort, as among the missionaries in Uganda, where the work of ten years’ revival is now going forward, whose flame was first kindled through the printed reports of the Keswick meetings.

Perhaps the deepest philosophy of the matter is still to be touched. The simple fact is, that Keswick stands not only for doctrinal teaching, but for the witness of experience. No man is ever asked to speak on the Keswick platform who has not proven for himself the truth he preaches. The Gospel is never effective when preached only by the herald. It demands the witness. And therefore, whatever the man’s learning or position, until from experience he can testify to the Gospel as both the power and wisdom of God to himself to break the bonds of sinful habit and transform unholy tempers, he is not welcomed to the Keswick platform. We ought all to learn that we must have something besides a mechanical and parrot-like repetition of the Gospel message. If souls are to be saved and sanctified by our message, the ministry must cease to be merely a human profession and become a divine vocation, and the power for such service must be found in the inflow and outflow of the Spirit. Until those who are sought for vacant pulpits are men of something more than scholarship and popular power, and are messengers of spirituality and true Gospel power, we shall continue to have pulpit artists who have little or nothing of the Holy Spirit effectiveness. The secrets of the highest power in preaching are neither occult nor difficult, for they are open secrets. In the view of Keswick teachers all that is essential is embraced in these three: first, the true and genuine Gospel message; second, a man behind the message with faith in it and true experience of its power; and third, the Holy Spirit setting on fire both the man and his message.

A. T. Pierson, The Homiletic Review, Volume 40, Vol. XL, July - December, 1900, ed. I. K. Funk and D. S. Gregory, (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1900), pp. 397-403.